Kennedy's Endorsement of Obama Had Family Roots

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's endorsement of Sen. Barack Obama grew from ire over the Clinton campaign's statements on the civil rights legacy of President John F. Kennedy.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's endorsement of Sen. Barack Obama grew from ire over the Clinton campaign's statements on the civil rights legacy of President John F. Kennedy. (By Gerald Martineau -- The Washington Post)
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By Mary Ann Akers And Paul Kane
Thursday, January 31, 2008

There's more to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's endorsement of Sen. Barack Obama than meets the eye. Apparently, part of the reason the liberal lion from Massachusetts embraced Obama (Ill.) was a perceived slight at the Kennedy family's civil rights legacy by the other Democratic front-runner, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.).

A source close to the family says Kennedy was privately irate at Clinton for her praise of President Lyndon Baines Johnson's role in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Kennedy felt Clinton's comments were an implicit snub of his brother, President John F. Kennedy, who proposed the landmark civil rights initiative.

Sources say Kennedy was upset about the tenor of events late in the campaign in New Hampshire.

On Jan. 7, in Dover, a Clinton supporter introduced the former first lady by saying: "Some people compare one of the other candidates to John F. Kennedy. But he was assassinated. And Lyndon Baines Johnson was the one who actually" signed the civil rights bill into law.

The Kennedy insider says Sen. Kennedy was deeply offended that Clinton remained silent and "sat passively by" rather than correcting the portrayal of his slain brother's civil rights record.

Later, a Clinton campaign spokesman distanced Clinton from the surrogate's comments. Sources said Clinton called Kennedy the next day to apologize. The Clinton campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

According to the source close to the family, Kennedy also was upset that Clinton said on the same day: "Dr. King's dream began to be realized when President Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act. It took a president to get it done."

The senator also was said to be furious with former president Bill Clinton for his "Southern strategy"-themed comments on the campaign trail. The senator didn't hide his disdain for the nasty tone of the campaign during his endorsement speech at American University on Monday.

Kennedy's spokeswoman, Melissa Wagoner, would not comment on whether the senator was angered by the New Hampshire comments. "Senator Kennedy knows that candidates can't always be responsible for the things their supporters say. He's proud of President Kennedy's role in the civil rights movement and believes that it's time to unify and inspire Americans to believe we can achieve great things again," she said.

Lautenberg Rocks: Givin' on a Prayer?

Leave the early-evening wine-and-cheese fundraisers to the youngsters who are up for reelection this year.

Octogenarian Sen . Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) will do it differently. With a lot more noise, and probably more tattoos, acid-washed jeans and black T-shirts. Lautenberg, who turned 84 last week, prefers rocking out while he raises money, as he will next month when his buddy Jon Bon Jovi performs at Verizon Center on Feb. 28.

"Rock out NEW JERSEY style," says his Senate campaign's "save the date" e-mail to donors.


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